Families living in hundreds of properties in the southern end of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley remain out of their homes Tuesday as an aggressive new wildfire burns nearby.
The Inkaneep Creek fire is burning on Osoyoos Indian Band land between the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos, about 40 kilometres south of Penticton.
Crews remained on scene overnight. The B.C. Wildfire Service has yet to provide an update on its progress, but the mayor of Oliver said teams appear to have made progress.
“Just visually, from what I can see, things do look a lot better. The wind definitely did not come up, but the fire was quite visible overnight in certain areas for sure,” Mayor Martin Johansen told CBC News on Tuesday.
“I believe, you know, we’ve kind of gotten through maybe the initial worst of it. We’ll see where it goes today … everything was put on this fire as quickly as possible.”
Hundreds of properties were ordered to evacuate Monday after a new wildfire nearby exploded in size over several hours.
The wildfire quickly grew from three hectares (0.03 square kilometres) to more than three square kilometres over the course of a few hours Monday afternoon. It was seven square kilometres in size as of 9 p.m. PT.
Evacuations happened so frantically that officials haven’t been able to confirm exactly how many people are out of their homes.
“This is a fast-moving wildfire and there was a lot going on,” said Erick Thompson with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS). “The total number [of evacuees], I haven’t had a chance to add up.”
The Oliver-Osoyoos region is a popular tourist destination, known for its wineries. The legion in Oliver is being opened Tuesday morning as a reception centre for evacuees.
The first evacuation order, covering almost 200 properties, was issued by the Osoyoos Indian Band on Monday evening.
Chief Clarence Louie with the Osoyoos Indian Band said the Oliver Fire Department did an “outstanding job” to save houses closest to the fire.
Members of the band who evacuated are staying in hotels in the Oliver-Osoyoos area for the time being, he said. Some have elected to stay behind.
Meanwhile, the RDOS has an evacuation order in place for several dozen properties east of the wildfire.
Further to the order, several dozen properties in the region — as well as within the town of Oliver — are under evacuation alert and are being asked to prepare to leave if an order is issued.
The RDOS has declared a local state of emergency. The town of Oliver, which has a population of about 5,000, has also declared a local state of emergency.
Fire officials in the region warned locals Monday to expect more evacuation alerts and orders.
Evacuees struggle to find accommodation
This fire is among the hundreds of wildfires currently burning across B.C., including more than 100 wildfires concentrated in the Interior.
Residents under evacuation have been scrambling to find safe accommodations, with hotel rooms at a premium.
Thompson-Nicola Regional District chair Ken Gillis said there are no available places to stay in Kamloops, Merritt or Salmon Arm.
“They’re absolutely full,” he said.
The RDOS encouraged evacuees to consider making arrangements to stay with family or friends due to the shortage of hotel accommodations. The district also called on tourists to be cognizant of the wildfire situation around them before heading into the area.
“Certainly, the message from anyone who is involved in tourism is that this region is still open for business … the issue is, with fast-moving wildfires, anyone who is scheduled to be in this area or who is visiting has to be very situationally aware,” said information officer Erick Thompson.
“The Okanagan is complex in that way now.”
Helicopters picking up water off Osoyoos Lake to fight the new wildfire in Oliver. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BCWildfire?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BCWildfire</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcnewsbc?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcnewsbc</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/BCGovFireInfo?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BCGovFireInfo</a> <a href=”https://t.co/qB609bQX7I”>pic.twitter.com/qB609bQX7I</a>
Weather ‘a huge concern’
The weather in the Interior is also challenging for fire crews. There was no rain in the southern half of the province over the weekend, and some areas haven’t seen rain for nearly five weeks.
Conditions are expected to stay hot and bone-dry through the week.
“The weather is a huge concern and we’re only in the middle of July. This is our second, third fire in this region. I won’t be surprised if we get more,” said Johansen, the mayor of Oliver.
“I just hope everybody does everything they can to be safe and do everything they can to avoid, you know, accidentally creating any fires … We’re all very concerned and we’ve got a long road ahead.”
Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately.
Evacuation centres have been set up throughout the province to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire. To find the centre closest to you, visit the Emergency Management B.C. website.
Evacuees are encouraged to register online with Emergency Support Services, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.